Almost everyone has heard of Microsoft Windows and most of us are pretty experienced with it at this point. I have spent most of my life in a DOS or Windows world. Windows has by far the largest market share in the world when it comes to operating systems. I think because of the popularity of Microsoft’s operating system many aren’t familiar with anything else unless they are Mac users. Many may not know it but there are a huge variety of operating systems out there. Albeit I have to admit that some are far more useful than others.
A powerful, useful, and fairly user-friendly alternative to Windows is Linux. It is different in many respects and takes some getting used to but I bet whatever you use Windows for you can also do on Linux. First we are going to go over what Linux is then I am going to show you three ways to check it out for yourself.
What is Linux?
Linux is an operating system like Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. An operating system is software that manages files, installs applications, and allows you to communicate with hardware. Though Linux is similar to Windows in that they are both operating systems that provide a graphical user interface there are many differences between them. Some of the differences include terminology, filesystem structure, and application software titles. There are some differences in the appearance of the interface as well.
Linux actually refers to many operating systems (called distributions) that are based on the Linux kernel. A kernel is what connects the system hardware and application software. There is a Linux kernel just as there is a Windows kernel. There are a lot of Linux operating systems and each one can be either slightly or greatly different from each other. Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, Arch, Bodhi, and SUSE are just a few. Go to DistroWatch to learn more. Linux was developed by Linus Torvalds and released in 1991. Most distributions are free.
Why Try Linux?
There can be many reasons to give Linux a try. Whether you are just curious, have concerns about Windows privacy issues, or just want to work with something new. Though I am a Windows user from a Microsoft oriented world I can tell you that learning about and messing with Linux can be satisfying. It is a challenging and interesting experience. At the same time if you don’t have a need or inclination to dig deep into a Linux distribution and are just going to do the basic listen to music, email, chat, social media, Google, and some gaming stuff then using Linux usually won’t be that difficult of a transition. Here are some of the reasons someone might want to check out linux.
- Most distributions are free so why not?
- You may have some concerns about privacy and security issues in Windows. Linux tends to be more secure than Windows. Why not check it out and see what you think?
- If you have an older computer that Windows is too demanding for Linux may be able to breathe new life into your older hardware.
- Learning Linux is a great way to learn more about computers and technology.
- If you have never used it taking on Linux can be an interesting challenge and learning experience.
How To Try Linux Without Dual Booting or Replacing Windows
There are many ways to give Linux a try. You can buy a computer with Linux already loaded. That can be an expensive option. You can take the leap and replace your Windows install with Linux. One word of warning about taking that leap, make sure it is really something that you want to do and be sure that your important files are backed up before you do it. Dual booting is another option. To do that you have to deal with some kind of boot loader. Here are three ways to check out Linux without having to deal with all of that.
If you want to see what a Linux based operating system looks and feels like it doesn’t get much easier than this. Just go to the DistroTest website and pick the distribution you want to try. There is nothing to download, nothing to install, and no virtual machines to set up. It is very slow but it’s a great way to get a basic feel for the distribution you are interested in. Remember that it’s not a great option to do most of the things you normally like to spend time doing on your computer because of the speed issues.
Ubuntu USB Drive
This method is pretty easily done. Go to this site and follow the instructions. When you are done you can start your PC up with the USB drive inserted in order to run Ubuntu. The distribution will run directly off the drive you created.
A virtual machine is a virtual computer that you create in your operating system. You use a virtualization software to set it up. Then you can install other operating systems without affecting your Windows install. VirtualBox is a good and free virtualization application. There are many great tutorials on how to use VirtualBox on Google and YouTube. In a future post I will write a walkthrough on how to use it.
Windows or Linux
Which operating system is better? As you will see below they both have strong pros and cons. Windows definitely has the market share but popular doesn’t always mean better. Let’s check out some pros and cons then I’ll share my personal preference.
- Fast startup unless it is updating.
- A vast amount of software titles available.
- The best operating system for gaming.
- Made by the same company that gave us Microsoft Office.
- The most familiar operating system in the world.
- A friendly user interface.
- Makes smartphone integration easy.
- Built-in antivirus.
- The majority of hardware makers have drivers available for Windows.
- The most targeted operating system in the world by malware and hackers.
- Resource heavy.
- Not great for privacy because a lot of data is shared with Microsoft.
- Windows is expensive in comparison to Linx. Windows 10 Home costs $139, Windows 10 Pro costs $199.99, and Windows 10 Pro for Workstations costs $309. Most Linux distributions are free and open source.
- Most distributions are free and open source.
- Linux can be faster than Windows.
- A large number of desktop environments available.
- Linux is extremely stable.
- More secure than Windows in that it is far less targeted by the bad guys.
- Less taxing on resources than Windows.
- If you come from a Microsoft world like I do then you will find that there is a learning curve to Linux.
- Not as much support for software that you may be used to as Windows provides.
- A smaller selection of hardware drivers than Windows.
- Smaller selection of popular games than Windows.
My personal preference is Windows. As I said earlier I am a Windows user from a Microsoft world. I do like Linux a lot and if I had to I would be fine with using a computer with Linux running as the main operating system. I am just used to Windows. I got started using MS-DOS and then moved onto Windows. That said, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from getting into Linux.
Best Linux Distributions for Beginners
The first Linux distribution I ever tried out was Slackware Linux back in the 90s. Back then the phrase user friendly and the word Linux couldn’t be used in the same breath. Linux had a much higher learning curve back then. Things have changed a lot over the years. Modern Linux is far easier to use than it used to be. Here are the distributions I think are the easiest for a beginner to get into. My personal preference would be Ubuntu or Mint but check them out and see which one(s) you like best.
Now you have three ways to check out Linux without having to dual boot or replace Windows. You also have a short list of distributions that are pretty easy for a newbie to jump into. My recommendation would be to start with the list of easier distributions mentioned above. Check out their websites and watch a couple YouTube videos to get a sense for how they would feel to you. See what they would look like on DistroTest. Then if you like what you see throw it on a USB stick or virtual machine. Have fun and explore.